Published: Sat, January 05, 2019
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

First high-resolution images of snowman-shaped Ultima Thule released by Nasa

First high-resolution images of snowman-shaped Ultima Thule released by Nasa

The snowman-like body is the most distant object ever visited.

Just over a day after NASA's New Horizons spacecraft zipped by Ultima Thule, scientists have revealed their preliminary findings of the distant object. "What you're seeing is the first contact binary ever explored by a spacecraft", Stern said today at a press conference here at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

It's also a glimpse 4.5 billion years back in time, to the origins of the solar system, because the distant planetesimal has nearly certainly orbited unchanged in the frozen Kuiper Belt since it formed. Stern said the spacecraft will resume transmitting in mid-January. New Horizons's journey into the solar system's past has just begun.

May, a Sir Isaac Newton look-alike, is also co-founder and lead guitarist of Queen, the iconic British rock band.

The New Horizons team combined a low-resolution color image of 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule, with sharper black-and-white imagery to produce the composite view at right.

Scientists already expected that the 19-mile-long Ultima Thule had two lobes to it, and even wondered if it was a pair of objects orbiting each other. The ratio of the larger lobe to the smaller is estimated to be about 3-to-1.

"This mission has always been about delayed gratification", Stern said on Tuesday.

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Demonstrating a disappointing lack of imagination, scientists have dubbed the larger sphere (12 miles across) "Ultima" and the smaller (nine miles across) "Thule".

"Think of New Horizons as a time machine that has brought us back to the very beginning of the solar system, to a place where we can observe the most primordial building blocks of the planets". "Now being scientists were not all that creative with words so we've made a decision to do is name one lobe Ultima and the other Thule".

The early images do not show obvious signs of craters caused by impacts.

Nasa has revealed the first high resolution images of a snowman lingering around the far reaches of our solar system.

"The spacecraft is in peak health", said Stern. The probe will now study the makeup of Ultima Thule's atmosphere and terrain for further clues about how solar system and planets form.

NASA's New Horizons, the spacecraft that dispatched back pictures of Pluto 3½ years ago, flounced the bygone peculiar matter early on New Year's Day. More than 100 scientists, including Heidi B. Hammel, a planetary scientist and a media liaison for the science team, gathered in the evening for a look.

An image of Thule, sent overnight and barely more detailed than previous images, deepens the mystery of whether Thule is a single rock shaped like an asymmetrical peanut or actually two rocks orbiting each other, "blurred together due to their proximity", Stern said.

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